A Look Back: Jim Abbott’s Second Greatest Feat

June 15th just passed, marking the 17th anniversary of a strangely inspiring play. Yes, I’m talking about just one play in a life of countless games.

A left-handed starting pitcher from the University of Michigan, Jim Abbott had a relatively successful first 7 years in the Major Leagues. He compiled a 78-82 record with a 3.77 ERA while finishing 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991, going 18-11 with a 2.91 ERA in 243 innings.

After playing for the California Angels in his first 4 seasons, Abbott was traded to the New York Yankees after the ‘92 season. On September 4th of 1993, he etched his name in the history books, tossing a no-hitter on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Abbott was coming off his worst outing of the season 5 days earlier when he allowed 7 earned runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings against the Cleveland Indians. Amazingly, in true baseball fashion, Cleveland was again the opponent as Abbott held them hitless with the aid of some terrific defense.

Of course, thus far I’ve left out the most astounding part: As I’m sure most of you know, Jim Abbott did all of this playing with one hand. Born with a right arm that ends about where his wrist would be, Abbott only had a stub where his right hand should exist. An inspiration to all who say, “I can’t.”

By deftly sliding his glove onto his left hand after each pitch – and a ton of work perfecting the move – Abbott silenced every doubter from Little League through MLB. His left arm fired bullets and his athleticism made him a strong defender, as he continually proved he had the skill to not only play, but excel.

While his accomplishments in the big leagues were somewhat surprising (after all, these are the best of the best), Abbott had been collecting accolades for years – more than most “two-handed” baseball players.

At the age of 11, Abbott threw a no-hitter in his very first Little League game. In his senior year of high school, he had a ridiculous 0.76 ERA, won 10 games, and struck out more than two hitters per inning.

Abbott beat out Basketball Hall-of-Famer David Robinson as the country’s top amateur athlete, becoming the first baseball player to win the AAU’s Sullivan Award, an award that has been handed out longer than the Heisman.

Abbott then earned baseball’s top amateur honor – the Golden Spikes Award – winning over another future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey, Jr.

The following year, Abbott won the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year award – the first baseball player ever to take home that honor. Later in 1988, the southpaw continued to impress by hurling a complete game in the Olympics to give Team USA a 5-3 victory over Japan to win the Gold Medal.

 

JimAbbott_USA_JohnWMcDonough_SportsIllustrated

John W. McDonough, Sports Illustrated

Despite all of these amazing feats, the one thing Abbott had never done was collect a base hit in Major League Baseball – the toughest thing to do in all of sports. He played in the American League from ’91-’96 where the designated hitter stood in his way.

In 1997, MLB started Interleague play where AL teams would play in some NL ballparks, requiring the pitchers to hit. Unfortunately for Abbott, he went 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA the year before and struggled in the spring of ’97, prompting the Angels to release the 29-year-old before Opening Day.

He sat out all of 1997, but fought his way back to the Chicago White Sox in ’98 where he only got 5 starts, all against AL teams in September. However, he did go 5-0 with a 4.55 ERA, which led him to look for another starting gig in 1999.

Cue the 1999 Milwaukee Brewers, who just so happened to switch from the AL Central into the NL Central one year earlier.

Coming off their 6th straight losing season (out of 12), they needed a left-handed starter and Abbott needed a new club. Both player and team saw a fit and had no worries about Abbott’s ability to bat in the NL.

After a solid Spring Training on the mound, Abbott was awful in his first 3 starts, going 0-3 with an 11.20 ERA (17 ER in 13.2 IP). He actually pitched some in relief, but went back to starting full time and picked up his 1st win on May 30, “improving” his record to 1-5.

Offensively, Abbott started the year 0-for-12 with 7 strikeouts through June 4th, though he did get down 3 sacrifice bunts. Considering his poor pitching performances as well, you started to get the sense he’d never get that 1st MLB hit.

That’s one of the ways baseball is such a great game. On June 15, it seemed like just another game in the middle of the daily rhythms of baseball, though the unsuspecting crowd would bear witness to another fascinating athletic display that also speaks to the strength of the human spirit.

It was a normal evening for baseball at rundown Milwaukee County Stadium. Thanks to the fans of the visiting Chicago Cubs, nearly 41,000 fans were on hand to see Jon Lieber square off against Jim Abbott between the new NL Central rivals.

There were some interesting items related to the game. Geoff Jenkins, playing in his first full season with the Brewers, was batting 8th. It’s not often you see a player with a 1.050 OPS hitting in front of the pitcher nearly 3 months into the season.

For the Cubs, Sammy Sosa started in center field. Strange until you realize his fellow outfielders were Henry Rodriguez and Glenallen Hill. At shortstop, it was future Brewers’ strikeout king Jose Hernandez who would join Milwaukee the following year.

Otherwise, it seemed like an uneventful evening until the bottom of the 4th inning. With the game tied at 1, the Brewers had Sean Berry at 2nd with 2 outs and Jenkins due to bat. Despite being early in the contest, the Cubs elected to walk Jenkins to pitch to Abbott.

As fate would have it, I was in the stands that night. As the veteran hurler walked to the plate, a noticeable buzz went through the crowd. Whispers of “he’s gonna do it here” echoed throughout the old wooden seats. Of course, every time he batted fans spoke of a similar fate.

Abbott stepped into the box, wrapped his left hand around his right “stub” and the handle of the bat, and taunted Lieber with a pair of faux swings toward the mound.

On the first offering, Abbott ripped a frozen rope toward short – the crowd cheered, then went briefly silent, then roared again – as Hernandez came within inches of snagging the line drive. Berry rumbled around to score the go-ahead run, though Jenkins was gunned down at 3rd by Sosa.

 

But it didn’t matter, the damage was done. Another notch on the belt of a man who accomplished so much in baseball. With or without the hit, 1999 would be the last of his 10 seasons – and he left having proved he could even hit.

(He would actually get a 2nd hit later that year – also against Jon Lieber, because baseball is funny like that. That time it was at Wrigley Field to drive in a pair of runs, including Jenkins.)

The best part was, he did it all while countless others doubted him, either out of ignorance, envy or a simple lack of faith in the drive and ability of someone who loved the game.

Abbott’s first Major League hit wasn’t his greatest feat and it’s just a footnote in the history of the game; however, his lone season in Milwaukee – while mostly forgettable – should be remembered for one of the many terrific nuances of America’s Pastime.

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The Next Man Up: Ike Davis

The Yankees roller coaster season continues as they struggle to find answers to turn their season around. Injuries have plagued the Yankees and they are having a hard time working around them.

Mark Teixeira is a big part of the lineup and his injury has loomed large in the Yankees clubhouse. The team had to find some relief and so they acquired Ike Davis. Davis needs to make a difference on the field because the Yankees have to start winning.

This season is moving quickly and this team can be on the verge of being knocked out of playoff contention early.

The Yankees do not need a place holder at the first base position they need a player that can make plays on defense, and get the job done in the batter’s box. I can see Davis being that kind of player, and he can help the Yankees offense in a major way.

The team has been getting outscored early and they are having trouble fighting back to regain the lead and win. That is a problem the Yankees have experienced at home and on the road and it has to change. The Yankees need to take this season to rebuild and move players around.

Davis is probably not the start of the rebuilding process, but he is a young player that can give the Yankees some life to try and revive their losing record. Davis is a career .200 hitter and the Yankees need him to be better than he is on paper.

His best season in the majors was in 2012 with the New York Mets when he exploded for 32 homeruns. Davis played in the most games in a single season of his career (156) in 2012. He performed that well after coming off a season in which he only played in 36 games due to injury.

The Yankees have been losing their first basemen at an alarming rate and they have had to use the depth that they lack on their bench as replacements. Davis now has the pressure on him to be as great as he once was. He is the best bet for the Yankees in their current state.

He is not completely different from Teixeira aside from not being a switch hitter the lefty does have pop in his bat. Davis has the right pieces around him to make a name for himself in the Bronx, but it is up to him to be productive.

Davis has a big responsibility on his hands to try and help the team change. Defensively he is a great player and he is the most qualified person for this position.

The Yankees do need him for offensive purposes just like they needed Teixeira before he got injured. Teixeira was also in a hitting slump before his injury. He could potentially lock up the first base position if he performs well.

This is a position that he is familiar with and if he starts hitting well and stays hot he will stay at first base. After Teixeira returns the Yankees will have options and they will make their decision when they are sure that he is healthy.

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Jonathan Lucroy: Why He’s Enjoying A Power Surge

Prior to the 2016 season, many wondered how effective Jonathan Lucroy would be coming off an injury-plagued season where he struggled to ever get his bat going. Lucroy played in just 103 games in 2015, posting his lowest batting average (.264) and OPS (.717) since 2011, the catcher’s first full season as a starter.

Not to mention, “Luc” just turned 30 on Monday, a concerning number for any player at his demanding position.

While the Milwaukee Brewers weren’t planning on truly competing this season, the hope was that Lucroy would bounce back to All-Star status in time for a trade deadline deal that would net Milwaukee a top prospect or two for their rebuilding efforts. Lucroy’s team-friendly contract is paying him $4 million this season with a club option for $5.25 million in 2017.

Those figures, combined with an elite-level bat and solid defensive skills at a premier position, make Lucroy extremely attractive to contending clubs if you trust that he’ll stay healthy and live up to those high standards.

Through the Brewers’ first 64 games, Lucroy has not only reached his normal hitting statistics, but he has added more power as well – something he hasn’t been known for in the past. Lucroy is on pace to surpass a handful of personal bests in these areas, ones he set in 2014 when he started the All-Star game and finished 4th in MVP voting.

If he continues at the current level, Lucroy would finish with a career-high 22 HR, a .519 slugging percentage, and an .883 OPS. As of June 14, he leads the team in triples (3), is 2nd behind Ryan Braun in SLG (.519) and OPS (.883), and sits 3rd on the club in HR (9) and doubles (12).

It’s fair to wonder if he can actually keep up the pace as we get into the heart of summer, especially playing such a taxing spot on the diamond. With that said, there are a number of reasons Milwaukee’s popular backstop is enjoying a power surge in 2016.

 

Hard Hit Ball Percentage

When putting the ball in play, 37.1% of Lucroy’s balls are considered “hard hit.” That number would be the best he has ever posted and nearly 5% higher than his career average. This obviously doesn’t guarantee more hits or additional home runs, but it does make it more likely to happen on a consistent basis.

His hard hit percentage is also part of the reason Lucroy’s batting average of balls in play (BABIP) currently sits at a career-high .343 this year. This stat tries to account for some luck in determining how many batted balls are landing safely. Of course, in theory, if you’re hitting the ball hard more frequently, they’ll be more difficult for the defense to catch.

 

Willingness To Strike Out

This one might seem counterintuitive, but it goes hand in hand with the hard hit ball percentage. While strikeouts can be extremely damaging in certain situations, trying to avoid the strikeout all the time can create even more outs. Instead of taking a normal, healthy cut at the baseball, a hitter may simply flick his wrists or punch at the ball to avoid the strikeout.

By trying to make ANY contact possible, it often results in softer hit balls that are just as easily turned into outs. By always taking a regular swing, you might whiff more often, but the balls you do hit will be caught less often.

Through 64 team games, Lucroy has struck out 43 times, putting him on pace for about 108 whiffs this season. That would represent the most in his career, topping his 99 punch outs in 2011. Since that time, the highest total he accumulated was 71 in 2014 – ironically, his best season.

Want more proof Lucroy has changed his approach and shed frequent contact for frequent pop? On pitches in the strike zone, Lucroy is only making contact 86.6% of the time. That is by far a career low and nearly 6% below his average. He has bought into a change in philosophy and it’s paying dividends in his power numbers.

 

Batting Cleanup

Most sabermetrics experts would disagree with me because they believe players don’t change because of the spot in the lineup. While it’s not always the case, certain guys will either mentally or physically (or both) alter what they do depending on where they hit in the order. This can definitely impact a players’ production over the course of a season.

Lucroy is the type of hitter who can produce anywhere in the lineup, and managers have done just that with him. He has at least 240 plate appearances in every spot from 2 through 8 in his career. However, entering 2016, Lucroy had just 231 plate appearances batting 4th – the fewest of those 7 spots he has hit frequently in.

That has changed this season as the 4-hole has been his primary spot in the lineup, and it’s altered his plan at the plate as well.

Holding down the premier run-producing role in the game – the cleanup hitter – Lucroy’s focus has zeroed in on driving balls to the outfield to knock in runs. Particularly with the frequency in which Braun and Jonathan Villar have been on base, it makes Lucroy all-the-more important as a power bat.

 

Keeping The Ball Off The Ground

With Lucroy’s approach as a run producer and his willingness to strike out to create consistent, hard contact, it’s enabled him to avoid hitting too many ground balls. With runners on base, he has made a concentrated effort to lift the ball to avoid double plays. He’s also not giving the defense easy, slow rollers by simply avoiding those strike outs.

The result has been a career-high 40% of his balls in play considered fly balls, and a 6% decrease in ground balls from his career average. His line drive percentage is also better than his average, sitting at 24.6% as of June 14. For reference, line drives are most likely to go for hits and fly balls are far more productive than grounders when they aren’t caught.

Lucroy’s hard hit percentage, combined with the increase in fly balls, has worked together to play a huge role in his power surge from a statistical standpoint; additionally, his mental approach to the game has had a positive impact as well.

 

 

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Why the Nationals Need to Re-Promote Trea Turner

The Washington Nationals are currently in first place in the NL East. Although their offense has been relatively solid thus far, it can still be improved. Re-promoting shortstop Trea Turner  is something that the team can do to achieve this.

Turner, 22, is considered one of the Nationals’ top prospects. Originally selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, Turner was eventually traded to Washington in the three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. He started out in Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League, and immediately impressed people in the organization. After just 10 games, the Nationals promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse. Turner played in 48 games for the Chiefs, hitting .314 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. The Nationals called him up to the Major Leagues on August 21, 2015. In 40 at-bats, Turner hit .225.

Instead of having Turner be their starting shortstop to start the 2016 season, the Nationals optioned him to Syracuse once Spring Training ended. Danny Espinosa was named the team’s starting shortstop. Last Friday, Turner was called-up because Ryan Zimmerman needed to be placed on the paternity list. He started at second base that night when the Nationals were in Cincinnati taking on the Reds. In the game, he went 3-for-3 with a walk. However, he did not start for the rest of the weekend. His only other appearance in the series came as a pinch-runner in Saturday’s game. On Monday, the Nationals announced that Zimmerman was reinstated and Turner had been optioned back to Triple-A.

This move definitely came as a surprise to many people in DC. The Nationals could have optioned another player to Triple-A, but instead they chose Turner. Espinosa really hasn’t had a good year. He’s only batting .203 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. In 57 starts at shortstop, he has committed five errors. Despite the fact that Espinosa is hitting just over .200, Nationals manager Dusty Baker has continued to pencil him into the lineup everyday. Part of the reason for this is that he really doesn’t have many other options. Stephen Drew is considered the team’s backup shortstop. His offensive numbers are less-than-impressive as well. Drew is only hitting .207 in 58 at-bats. Besides these two players, Baker really doesn’t have any other options at shortstop. If the Nationals re-promoted Turner however, then he would.     

It’s not like Turner hasn’t been putting up good numbers in Triple-A this season. He’s had 213 at-bats with the Chiefs and is hitting .310 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .377 while his slugging percentage is up to .460 Additionally, Turner has 19 stolen bases. There’s really no reason for the Nationals to keep waiting. Clearly, he’s ready to be promoted for good.

The Nationals are currently in a tight divisional race in the NL East with the New York Mets. If they want to take down the defending division champions, they’re going to need to put out the best offense they can everyday. For that to happen, Trea Turner needs to be with the team and in the starting lineup. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has been criticized for moves he’s made or hasn’t made in the past. This is an opportunity for him to make the right decision. If he doesn’t soon, Nationals fans will certainly continue to be on his case.

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Atlanta Braves Draft: Day One Reactions

The first day of the MLB Draft has come and gone. How did the Atlanta Braves fare? Who did they take and why?

First Round – 3rd Overall Pick

With the third pick in the draft the Braves selected a right handed pitcher named Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson hardly came as a shock to those who had been paying close attention to the draft throughout the day as rumors began a few days ago and were confirmed early yesterday morning that the Braves had a deal in place with Anderson in order to sign him for an “under slot” bonus.

Ian Anderson stands at 6’3″ and throws his fastball in the mid 90’s. He was considered to be the 13th best prospect in the draft, according to MLB.com .

Many were calling for the Braves to take a bat, and with good reason. The current big league club is not hitting very much and there is not an abundance of talented bats rising through their farm system. You could have made a logical argument for drafting either Mercer’s Kyle Lewis or Louisville’s’ Corey Ray with the third pick.

However, the Atlanta Braves agreeing to sign Ian Anderson to an under slot deal would prove to be pivotal as the draft night wore on and shortly you will understand why. I love this pick for the Braves.

Lottery Round A – 40th Overall Pick

When the team’s selection rolled around at 40 it was pretty evident who they were taking. Another rumor had been started a few weeks ago that the Braves could have been speaking with Joey Wentz about possibly being able to take him, a first round talent, all the way down at pick 40. This is exactly how it happened and the pick could not have gone better for the Braves.

Joey Wentz is a 6’5″ left handed pitcher out of a Kansas high school. Last summer he made himself known for his bat, crushing home runs in the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, but he established himself as a mid-first round talent on the mound. Joey throws in the mid-90’s and has two above average alternate offerings in the mix along with his clean and repeatable delivery.

Once again a really great pick for the Braves here. They were able to select MLB.com’s 16th best draft prospect at pick number 40. The Braves would next go on the clock just four picks later at 44th overall.

Second Round – 44th Overall Pick

The depth of the 2016 draft was easily high school pitchers, as there were plenty of high upside arms in this draft to choose from. After seeing the Braves select two high school pitchers with their first two picks, the organization went back to the well again for their third pick, this time selecting Kyle Muller out of a high school in Texas.

Kyle Muller is another high school left hander with a mid-90’s heater. His other offerings and control are not as advanced as the other two players the Braves drafted, but he is 6’5″ and projectable. Making him MLB.com’s 24th best draft prospect .

Atlanta’s agreement with Ian Anderson to sign him for an under slot bonus allowed for them to be able to select two other high upside and highly touted prospects much further down in the draft than where they were expected to go.

The Braves were able to draft the 13th, 16th, and 24th best draft prospects with picks 3, 40, and 44. That’s amazing value and the money they saved selecting Ian Anderson was the difference. John Coppolella has previously stated how he envisions “wave after wave” of talented prospects coming into Atlanta for years to come. This is certainly a nice vision to have and one that could bring sustainable and winning baseball to the organization. However those waves are not possible unless you have as much highly touted talent as you can acquire.

The Braves got max value from their first three picks on draft day. Braves fans should be very excited by the draft so far.

Atlanta’s final pick of the first day was the pick they received in a trade with Baltimore a few weeks back, pick 76.

Lottery Round B – 76th Overall Pick

At pick 76 the Braves finally did what all…eh…we’ll call them “casual fans” were screaming for throughout the night. They selected a position player, or, rather more importantly, they selected a bat.

The pick was the catcher out of California, Brett Cumberland. Cumberland is a draft eligible sophomore and bats from both sides of the plate. He hits extremely will and can hit for a little bit of power, ranking 69th on MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects list .

Coming into draft night, I was pretty sure that the Braves would target a catcher with their later picks (either 76 or 80) but Cumberland was not on my radar due to his reputation as a bat-first catcher. With the pitching staff the Braves are putting together I would have liked to see them select a catcher with a defensive pedigree and projectable (or more just “a project”) bat, such as Sean Murphy out of Wright State or, even later on in the draft, taken Jake Rogers out of Tulane who has been described as the best defender at any position in this draft.

Nevertheless the pick was Cumberland, and I understand why. The guy can flat out hit and he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year for his excellent season. Most scouts see him moving out from behind the plate later on, but the Braves will likely put him back there until he proves he can’t handle it, or his bat simply outgrows his defense and he needs to move on from catching in order to make an impact at the major league level.

Brief Day One Reaction Summary

An excellent day for the Braves organization and fans. The team snagged three early to mid-first round talents with their first three picks and added a potent bat with their fourth. Outstanding value and hopefully they will be picks that pan out in the future.

If you take just one thing away from this article let it be this…the great first day of the draft by the Atlanta Braves was built upon the golden rule of drafting…

You Do Not Draft For Need

 

 

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Rookie Watch 2.5

Ok, ok, I know in my last rookie watch post I promised to revisit those candidates in July with an update.

However, and shame on me for not adding this player to my list eariler than now, I felt the recent success of Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara merrited an eariler update.

Also, a few of those former candidates have since cooled down, and as a result didn’t make this new cut.

With that being said, and without further ado, let’s take a look at the top rooks:

 


1. Trevor Story ( SS Colorado Rockies)

Few rookies have captivated fans the way Colorado short stop Trevor Story has this season.

Despite a high number of strikeouts, 81, Story continues to etch himself further into the history books. He now has the most HR by a rookie SS before the All-Star break, with 16, since 1933.

Story is currently slashing .262/.315/.563 to go along with 42 RBI, and will likely remain the Rockies starting SS after veteran Jose Reyes returns to the team.

 

2. Nomar Mazara ( OF Texas Rangers)

Plagued by early injuries this season, the Rangers outfield was in need of assistance. Enter Nomar Mazara.

In 49 games so far this season, Mazara has hit 10 home runs with 27 RBI and a solid .319/.370/.500 slash-line.

Mazara was also honored last month with the American League Rookie of the Month for May, which he also received back in April.

I know I said the same thing about Tyler White last time around, however, it would seem Mazara is on a fast track to becoming the 2016 AL ROY recipient.

 

3. Steven Matz (SP New York Mets)

After a less than desirable first start to the season, Steven Matz has been nothing short of sensational ever since.

In his last six outings Matz is 6-0 with an impressive 1.74 ERA, a microscopic WHIP of 0.96, and 43 SO. Those numbers earned Matz the National League Rookie of the Month honors for May, opposite Mazara.

It appears Matz (25) has joined Jacob DeGrom (27) and Noah Syndergaard (23), as yet another young pitching stud on the Mets staff.

 

4. Corey Seager (SS Los Angeles Dodgers)

Seager flew onto everyone’s 2016 rookie radar after last year’s brief, but impressive, late season stint. And despite a slow start, Seager has recently reminded us why he’s so good.

The young Dodger had his first three HR game against the Atlanta Braves back on June 3rd, and ended the series with a total of five HR. This makes Seager the second youngest MLB player to have five HR in his last three games, and six HR in his last six games in the Modern Era (since 1900 per Elias Sports Bureau)

Seager has slashed for .283/.340/.526 this season with 14 HR (second behind Story for the most by a rook SS since 1933) and 35 RBI.

 

 5. Michael Fulmer (SP Detroit Tigers)

Fulmer has been a rookie on the rise, and is currently riding a 22 and 1/3 scoreless innings streak for the Tigers. Fulmer also owns a 6-1 record with a respectable 2.83 ERA, and 49 SO thus far.

The 23-year-old has provided some needed stability to Detroit’s rotation, which has mostly been carried by veterans Jordan Zimmerman (8-2/2.58 ERA/43 SO) and Justin Verlander (5-5/3.97 ERA/85 SO) this season.

Fulmer will be worth keeping an eye on, and could rival Mazara at seasons end for AL ROY.

 

Honorable Mention: Aledmys Diaz SS STL, Trea Turner SS/2B WSH, Aaron Nola SP PHI, Kenta Maeda SP LAD, Adam Duvall OF CIN.

 

Final Thoughts:

So, for real this time, I’ll provide one last rookie update following the All-Star break in July, before I post my final ROY candidates in both the AL and NL.

Until then, these young guns will give you plenty to watch between now and then.

Cubs Lose Jake Arrieta’s Start

The Chicago Cubs finished their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2nd. The Cubs won three out of the four games against the Dodgers, but failed to take advantage of a Jake Arietta start in their one loss. Arrieta went seven innings giving up no runs.

The Cubs lost the game in the last two innings. After seven innings, the game was scoreless, but two runs were scored off pitcher Clayton Richard in the eighth and three runs were scored off pitcher Adam Warren in the ninth.  The Cubs lost 5-0.

The last time the Cubs lost a game when Jake Arrieta started a game was in July of 2015. The game was officially a no-decision for Arrieta so it didn’t affect his win-loss record.

On June 5th, however, The Arizona Diamondbacks managed to put up three runs on Arrieta. The Cubs offense only managed to put up two runs in that game. The final score was 3-2, giving Arrieta his first loss in eleven months.

Best Rotation in the MLB?

As of June 4th, the five starters of the Cubs rotation all have an ERA under three. John Lackey has a 2.88 ERA, which is the best among starters. The average ERA of the five starters is 2.55, the best statistically in the MLB as of June 4th.

Hot Streak

The Cubs have won ten of their last twelve games as of June 5th. This comes after the Cubs had lost eight of twelve at one point in May. The Cubs are hitting especially well in their current stretch.

The home run ball has especially helped the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hit one out to right field on the on June 4th and Kris Bryant has hit 400-foot home runs on consecutive days this past week. Dexter Fowler recently hit his 3rd leadoff home run.

Fowler has been especially good against opposing fastballs. According to an infographic posted on Inside Edge’s twitter account, Fowler has a .405 batting average when a fastball is thrown to him. Five of his home runs have also come off fastballs.

Looking for Relievers?

According an article published by ESPN’s MLB Rumor Central, the Cubs are possibly looking for a lefty reliever on the trade market. The news come in the wake of Clayton Richard’s struggles. Richard has an 8.00 ERA in sixteen appearances as of June 3rd.

The article specifically mentions Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees as trade targets for the Cubs. The Cubs have recently done business with the Yankees, trading Starlin Castro this past winter. The Cubs got Adam Warren in return, who has a 2.75 ERA as of June 5th.

Will the Yankees will be willing to trade one of their relievers? It is not guaranteed. The Yankees are currently six games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but could improve their standing as the summer goes on. It is too early in the year for the Yankees to give up hope on the postseason.

Chase Utley Gets the Last Laugh Against the Mets…. For Now

Perhaps no player in all of baseball is hated more by the fan base of a team than Chase Utley is loathed by the New York Mets fans. On Saturday night, the hatred was out in full force when the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Citi Field taking on the Mets.

Utley has been a thorn in the Mets side for years. Ever since his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, the 37-year old second baseman has always put up good numbers against them. In his career, Utley has hit 38 home runs against the Mets, the most he’s hit against any team. Especially when he was in Philadelphia, he had a knack for getting big hits when he played the Mets. However, this is only part of the reason that their fans dislike him so much.

In mid-August of last season, the Phillies traded Utley to the Dodgers in exchange for Darnell Sweeney and John Richy. This marked the end of his 13-year career in Philadelphia, but it certainly didn’t mean that his rivalry with the Mets was over. Sure enough, the Dodgers and Mets both won their respective divisions and ended up playing each other in the 2015 NLDS. Utley only had three at-bats in the entire series, which included one hit. His most memorable moment in the series came during the seventh inning of Game 2, following that hit. In an attempt to break up what possibly could have been an inning-ending double play, Utley slid into Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada. Not only was he ruled safe at second base after a video review, but Tejada had to leave the game due to a fractured right fibula. The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the game at that point, but they rallied and went on to win 5-2. Utley was originally suspended two games by Major League Baseball for the slide, but because he appealed the suspension, he was allowed to play the remainder of the NLDS.  The  Mets were able to win the series in five games, but Tejada did not return. He missed the remainder of the postseason, and the Mets eventually lost in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

It was assumed that the Mets were going to try and get revenge on Utley sometime during the 2016 season. Major League Baseball officially dropped his suspension on March 6, meaning there would be no punishment at all for the slide. Unsurprisingly, Mets fans were not happy. Although Tejada was released by the team on March 16, fans still expected the Mets to try and do something to send a message to Utley when they played the Dodgers. The two teams played a four-game series at Dodger Stadium in early May, but nothing happened. Last weekend, the Dodgers came to Citi Field for three games. This time, plenty happened.

As expected, Utley was booed vigorously by the Mets fans every time he came to bat. He was not thrown at on Friday night. Instead, he had a huge hit in the top of the ninth inning. Facing Mets closer Jeurys Familia with the bases loaded and two outs and his team trailing 5-2, Utley hit a game-tying three-run double. The Mets went on to win the game in the bottom of the inning after Curtis Granderson hit a walk-off home run.

When Utley’s name was announced during Saturday night’s game, he was booed even louder than the night before. With Mets ace Noah Syndergaard on the mound, he struck out looking during his first at-bat. He next came to bat in the top of the third inning. With one out and nobody on base, Syndergaard threw a fastball behind Utley. It didn’t him, but Syndergaard was ejected by home plate umpire Adam Hamari. This led to Mets manager Terry Collins getting thrown out of the game as well. Collins was clearly upset because no warnings were issued before the game. Clearly, Hamari knew Utley’s history with the Mets. He was not hesitant at all to eject Syndergaard for trying to send a message to Utley.

The Mets fans were more outraged than ever. Not only did Utley not even get hit by the pitch, but Syndergaard had been tossed from the game for trying to send a message to him. To make matters even worse for them, Utley hit a solo home run off of Logan Verrett in the top of the sixth inning. But he wasn’t finished yet. Just when you thought he couldn’t become any more villainous to Mets fans, Utley hit a grand slam off of Hansel Robles the next inning. This put the Dodgers ahead 6-0. They went on to win the game 9-1.  

For Utley, it was a very successful weekend in Flushing. The Mets failed to adequately get revenge on him for the slide into Tejada. He hit two big home runs to help the Dodgers crush the Mets. It seems as though Utley has gotten the last laugh against the Mets and their fans. The two teams do not play each other for the remainder of the season. However, there’s always the chance that they meet in the postseason again. If that happens, the series will definitely be must-watch television. The Mets would then have one last chance to get the last laugh against Chase Utley.

Cold Bats Burn Yankees

Just as they started to climb in the standings the Yankees took a turn for the worst and have reverted back to their losing ways. The Yankees are 2-6 in their last 8 games and their hitting has been poor.

Changes need to be made soon or the team may be in trouble through important stretches of the season.

At this point of the season I think every game leading up to the all star break counts so they can have time to see exactly what moves they need to make. There needs to be a change in the offensive strategy because it takes runs to win games.

The batting averages of the major run producers are low such as Mark Teixeira who is batting .185. Brian McCann is also not hitting well with a batting average of .224.

Those numbers are critical especially if these hitters are the power portion of the lineup. Getting on base has not been the problem for the Yankees, but batting those runs in has been a problem season long.

It was a problem early in the season and it is rising again. The Yankees do not want to waste another season and miss the playoffs, but they need help.

The Toronto Blue Jays have had the Yankees number so far this season. In the three series the teams have played against each other this season Toronto has won all three. In the most recent sweep the Yankees could not catch up because of their poor hitting.

The Blue Jays have a great offense and showed that when they broke the Yankees 6 game winning streak just over a week ago. A poor offense against a strong offense with good pitching is dangerous. This is why a change is necessary because, and if none is made the Yankees can expect the same results.

The Yankees have veteran players doing the heavy lifting in the organization, and they could have more of that production if they looked in the minors. Nick Swisher is sitting in the Yankees minor league system and he is ready to be a contributor at the big league level again.

Swisher is hitting .243 right now and is doing well for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees have options even if they are temporary because they have players that know how fast paced the big league level is, and how to work well inside of it.

I think the team may be hesitant to make any moves because they want to make their current unit work and get comfortable.

The Yankees also need to tune up their pitching staff. Starting pitcher Luis Severino has been sent down to the minors, and that forced the Yankees to move former starting pitcher Ivan Nova back into a starting role.

Although he can be a versatile pitcher Nova did struggle as a starter the past few years and moved to a relief spot. Yesterday he gave up 6 runs and that is an indicator that he does not fit to be in the starting rotation. The Yankees have some decisions in front of them that can change the course of their season for the better, but they have to act fast before it is too late.

The Atlanta Braves Have Their Closer

When you think of the Atlanta Braves, you think of great pitching. More specifically, each Braves team that has been successful over the past two decades have had a dominant closer at the back end of the bullpen. From John Smoltz to Mark Wohlers to Craig Kimbrel, the closer in Atlanta will always have big shoes to fill.

After the trade of the franchise’s all time leader in saves, Craig Kimbrel, before the 2015 season, the team has been searching for that “lights-out” option at the end of games to help put away now hard-to-come-by victories.

The Braves have appear to have found that next great closer.

-Enter Arodys Vizcaino-

Arodys Vizcaino originally signed with the New York Yankees as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. Following two brief seasons in the Yankees system, Vizcaino was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2009 as a part of the Javier Vazquez trade.

After being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2012, he found his way back to the Braves in 2014 when the Braves sent Tommy La Stella to the Cubs in return for Arodys Vizcaino.

So far in the 2016 season, Vizcaino is a vital member of the Braves’ bullpen, and represents one of the few steady options manager Brian Snitker has to call upon game after game out of the pen.

Now that Vizcaino has established himself as the Braves’ closer, it is becoming clear to those watching that Vizcaino is not planning on giving up the role. He currently has six saves in seven opportunities and is striking out batters at a tremendous clip while limiting his walks (30 K’s in 20.2 innings pitched along with only seven walks ).

Vizcaino possesses a fastball that has been clocked north of 100 miles per hour and sits consistently in the upper nineties (getting an average of 96 to 97 miles per hour on all fastballs per FanGraphs ).

While a prospect, Arodys Vizcaino’s curveball was considered one of his better pitches, being touted as the best curve in the entire Yankees’ system by Baseball America. However, he seems to have abandoned the curve as he has not thrown the pitch in the majors, officially, since 2011. Instead, Vizcaino has focused on a two pitch mix of a fastball and a slider. Each season his confidence in the slider has increased as proven by his reliance on the pitch, throwing it nearly 41% of the time thus far in the 2016 season .

When watching the arsenal of Arodys Vizcaino, one cannot help but think of former Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, who also uses a two pitch mix to attack opposing batters. While Craig uses his fastball much more than Vizcaino, 75% of his pitches have been fastballs in 2016 compared to just 58% of pitches being fastballs for Vizcaino , Kimbrel uses a different breaking ball than Vizcaino. Craig Kimbrel now uses a fastball and curveball arsenal, which would explain the greater distance in terms of break on his breaking ball compared to Vizcaino’s slider. Both closer’s fastballs sit in the upper nineties with the potential to crack the 100 mile per hour barrier, as earlier stated.

Regardless of his similarities to the man he is replacing, Arodys Vizcaino will almost certainly begin to write his own records in Atlanta Braves history books. He has all the tools and potential to be the next dominate closer for the franchise, and will hopefully be the anchor towards the end of games when the team is looking to be a competitor again. If Vizcaino remains a Brave for the foreseeable future, I can see him challenging Kimbrel’s save records and potentially being the man closing out key playoff games for the team.

For Braves fans, they can just hope he stays healthy and is still around for those comings years of competitive play, as his ability and overpowering arsenal show nothing but dominance in Arodys Vizcaino’s future.